Wednesday, 4 November 2015

The Croat card player - a ballad

I know a skilful little man,
by name of Crumbly-Pilchard.
He spends his days upon the baize
and nights he fumbles Richard

He is a wizard with his Dick,
though hearts don't always break
We gaze amazed at his great length
and wish he'd down his stake

A boy should know, a boy should learn
that though he may have skill,
the enemies he makes in life
can kick him till he's shrill

Don't target me, O little man
or I will rhyme you sore,
and every time I see your mug
I'll come and kick you more

Thursday, 23 July 2015

In memoriam: Marywin Gibbons (1926-2015)

You left in April, Mary, dear;
we're gathered here today
to say goodbye, to say farewell,
to say we loved your stay

on Earth you ne'er believed in Heav'n
but light ran through and through
all your dealings here with us.
Goodbye. Farewell. Thank You.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Matt Horn, MBE (The Yawn)

Originally published in 2006, this piece gained some attention, and I later unpublished it on request from its victim subject. However, new facts have come to light since my return to this city... I therefore have no compunction in resurrecting it, with some small amendments and additions.

Most of the foreign teachers here are pleasant enough. I smile and wave at Americans, Canadians, some Italians, a Russian and so on. It is said, however, that an Englishman only needs to open his mouth for another Englishman to despise him, and so we come to the Yawn.

I met him on my first working day in China. I had just finished my lectures, and was waiting for the bus home, when I was greeted by a cheery ‘Eyup!’

‘Hello!’ I returned, and soon I was being gently pumped about my life and times. I suppose alarm bells should have started ringing when I learnt he was a journalist, but I must have passed the initial Yawn test, for I was invited up for a beer when we got back and for dinner with his clique the following day.

But then a strange thing happened. Once I had told the Yawn all he wanted to know, he clearly decided that a penniless scribbler was of no use to him, and there were no further invitations. 

Well, I don’t worry about that sort of thing: people have their little factions; either you fit or you don’t, and I have never made any effort to fit in anywhere. Add to that the Yawn’s endless droning on about the brilliance of the Scunthorpe United midfield, his latest holiday destination, or where to find the cheapest beer in the city, and I was delighted to be excluded, and have an extra evening to devote to Verdi.

But then the Yawn came up to me one day and started asking about my ‘girlfriends’, with the same prurient curiosity as the Fleet Street Fuckers. Had it been a normal person, I should have told him to mind his own business, but one must make allowances for journalists; they are, after all, paid to make your business everyone’s business.

Nonetheless, my mood has changed from indifference to ire. Given that the Yawn has shown such an interest in my life, I think it only fair to examine his.

Of the Yawn’s early existence we know little. Born in the North, he graduated from somewhere in something, and we can surmise that his love of Scunthorpe United and booze started at an early age. The first definite sighting occurs some twenty years ago, when he was working as a stringer for the Bognor Weekly Advertiser. His career there was a success: for several years he was one of the top four or five stringers on the paper, and his coverage of the nail-biting finale to the 1993 Martlesham Conservative Ladies’ Whist Drive is still considered by some to be the definitive account.

Moving from strength to strength, the Yawn then branched into travel journalism. It would be fair to say that his writing is well-suited to this: on reading him you want to travel as far away as you can. The Yawn may have won no prizes, but he developed a taste for freebies and beaches that stays with him to this day.

Then he followed his better half out to China, and with his heady brew of bonhomie and bullshit soon established himself here, like a tick on a rhino’s hide. One can never be sure what the Yawn actually does, but mostly you can find him in bars, on beaches or at dinners, so obviously he is spending his time fruitfully.

Like many little men, the Yawn has a massive inferiority complex, but in his case it is entirely justified. The spunkless pisspot judges people not on their merits but on how useful they may be to him. He is arslikhan polite to those with power and sniffily dismissive of those without. He has appointed himself spokesman for the foreign community in the university, whether we want him or not, and he presents himself to newcomers as the guru on Chinese ways and customs. In fact, one may judge his true interest in and love of the country from the fact that in many years here he has learnt absolutely nothing of the language beyond: ‘Take me to the nearest bar, taxi driver!’

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Zhou Yongkang and Shang Yang

History is a wheel. Shang Yang (商鞅) could not survive the death of Duke Xiao of Qin, and his entire family was killed (株连九族). Zhou Yongkang, also a ruthless servant of the party, and his family will meet a similar fate. Perhaps not as bloody: the wheel turns, but it may also rise.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Kipling's Ass

The Hun is at the gate! A driven foe,
I know you love to hear how Germans die.
for body, soul an iron sacrifice.
'Ach Kamerad' they cry, then squeal like stoats.
Atrocities engorged as scarlet crazy
squirts spawn about the corpses of old toads;
menagerie of carrion and waste
shambles across a century of crows.
And then, in boiling shards of poignant beauty,
(wolves graze, and dust becomes the serpent's meat)
through a becalmed and still reflective maunder,
(trusting a day there shall be no more shooting)
erupt emotions - soaring, wheeling fleets,
leap into hope that even war surrender.

Friday, 22 June 2012

The Songstone, Canto I: The Tower

is published today. A free copy from:

But Kora sat unmoving, in great magic. 
The walls, her home, faded about her. Warmth
went; all alone and on a freezing plain,
dressed in a tunic, sharp knife in her belt,
bow on her shoulder, arrows in a quiver 
behind. Her eyes gleamed; a pale cold light,
ˈlɪmpɪd ɪn ˈdʌlnəs

She looked around. Away, at vision’s limit,
a dark shape rose above the plain: a Tower,
the only thing in all this barren place:
no bird flew, no grass grew. Despite the wool 
she shivered. Breath-clouds hung in the raw air,
ˈsləʊli dɪˈzɒlvɪŋ

Then in eye’s corner something moved. She turned
to gaze across the Waste and saw a Cloud.
Far, almost straight behind her as she faced
the Tower, it too reared up black and sheer.
Unlike the Tower, moving, whirling, wisps
trailing their tentacles around a core,
ˈtwɪstɪŋ ɪnˈseɪnli

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Sumer is icumen in

Sumer is icumen in,
Lhude sing cuccu!
Groweþ sed and bloweþ med
And springþ þe wde nu,
Sing cuccu!
Awe bleteþ after lomb,
Lhouþ after calue cu.
Bulluc sterteþ, bucke uerteþ,
Murie sing cuccu!
Cuccu, cuccu, wel singes þu cuccu;
Ne swik þu nauer nu.
Sing cuccu nu. Sing cuccu.
Sing cuccu. Sing cuccu nu!

Monday, 20 February 2012

Classroom antics

"Suck my dick," said the 17 year old, and helpfully translated it for his classmates: 舔我.
Some of them giggled nervously. A hush fell.
"Too small to suck," said I, and also translated: 太小,
Class roars with laughter; boy slinks off to bathroom. Perhaps to check if it's still there.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Biking in Beijing

It's minus 5 outside: leathers, tough shoes;
a warmer bed awaits in Dongba's stews.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

New Year's Day

A whispering day, alone with thoughts and whisky.
Tomorrow call a wench: I'm feeling frisky.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Progress and poverty (for HG)

The Land Tax for the nations' pain:
rent to the treasury the claim

William Hogarth
Marriage A-la Mode 2: The Tete a Tete 1745
The National Gallery, London

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Monday, 19 December 2011

Shanghai surprise

Lily and Nana, a pleasurable pair:
four legs good; two twats fantastic. All's fair

Friday, 16 December 2011

Apologies to Milton

The Sisters of the sacred well be damned:
a bottle, glass, some heat and steady hand

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Mulled wine

Add cinnamon and honey, fruit and cloves;
a winter's night in Bacchanalian groves